Cultural Data Project to aid arts, nonprofits

May 7, 2010
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A database project made its debut in Michigan recently that will make it easier for arts and cultural nonprofits to apply for grants and analyze data about themselves.

“I think it’s a fantastic program, wonderful for the state of Michigan,” Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids Executive Director Caroline Older said.

The goals of the Cultural Data Project, developed and launched in Philadelphia nine years ago by The Pew Charitable Trusts, are to strengthen arts and cultural nonprofits by improving information and analysis, provide statistics for researchers and arts advocates and provide funders with a means to streamline grant-making and evaluation.

“People literally gasp when I give this presentation — they are so impressed at how much it can do,” said Jennifer Hill, director of special projects for advocacy group ArtServe Michigan. Hill is coordinating the project in the state.

“You only have to enter your information once and then it automatically is generating these reports with literally one click or two clicks of a button. It has real value, especially for small and mid-size organizations that may not have had the ability to use Excel very well or even more sophisticated accounting programs.”

A free training session for nonprofits is planned for May 27 at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy, 201 Front Ave. SW. Others are slated for May 25 in Battle Creek and May 26 in St. Joseph.

“Basically, it’s an online tool where you enter your audit and your program information — how many performances you put on, how many kids you had in your education program, whatever it is that you  do — you put that in once a year, and then you get back 77 different reports that show trends over time,” Hill said. Historical data can be entered now to give that perspective over time for years past, she added.

Nonprofits also will be able to create comparisons of themselves to similar organizations in a variety of different geographies, such as state, region, congressional district and zip code, Hill said.

“The third thing it does, you can take that information and use it as part of your grant application to participating funders,” she said.

Certain foundations and other organizations that fund nonprofits have agreed to use the common data that nonprofits will enter into the database in their application processes, Hill said. Nationally, 150 funding organizations are participating.

The funders pick up the tab for the program, which is free to nonprofits. Hill estimated that 3,000 Michigan organizations are eligible.

“It becomes, in essence, a cost of doing business because it has such value to the entire sector,” Hill said.

Locally, the Frey Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation have been involved in planning for the Cultural Data Project, but representatives were unavailable for comment.

Michigan will be the eighth state to join the growing effort, Hill said, with a plan to have 22 states included by 2014.

Hill said ArtServe intends to produce a report on research based on the database in 2011. For more information, see www.miculturaldata.org

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